Travel advisors are still in a government-imposed lockdown, despite Canada lifting its non-essential travel advisory for fully vaccinated people, and they will need ongoing support in order to benefit from the country's reopening, says Wendy Paradis, president of the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies (ACTA).
Last week, the Ministry of Finance released new information on eligibility requirements for the Canada Worker Lockdown Benefit, which replaced the Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB) on Sunday (Oct. 24).
The details, however, were “scant,” Paradis wrote PAX in an email on Friday (Oct. 22), stating that ACTA is following up with government officials for clarification.
Canada's “Lockdown” benefit provides $300 a week to workers who are subject to a COVID-19 lockdown if one happens, said Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland last week.
The program will also extend to cover those who are not eligible for employment insurance, Freeland told reporters.
The eased restriction will help restore consumer confidence in travel, but convincing federal officials what a “qualifying lockdown” means may require extra time and resources.
What constitutes a "lockdown?"
Last week, Ottawa lifted its global "non-essential" travel advisory for fully-vaccinated Canadians, returning to country-specific risk assessments.
When the advisory was active, one could have made the argument that travel advisors, in essence, were in lockdown –even if businesses were allowed to operate – due to the lowered demand that comes with federal travel warnings.
It's possible, now, that some advisors won't qualify for lockdown support now that the non-essential advisory has been eliminated.
ACTA’s position is that all barriers currently impacting travel, including Canada's expensive mandatory molecular testing requirement at the border, equates to being in lockdown.
“We assert that any COVID-19 related restrictions on the border, including travel advisories and onerous testing requirements, constitute a government-imposed public health lockdown that interrupts the work of travel agents,” Paradis said.
As such: “Continued financial support is necessary.”
Support for tourism recovery
The now-defunct CRB provided income support to individuals who are unemployed or self-employed for reasons related to COVID-19, or faced a 50 per reduction in their average weekly income compared to the previous year.
It was, in many cases, the only benefit that independent travel advisors could qualify for.
Freeland, last week, unveiled new targeted support for the travel and tour sector, acknowledging that “some businesses are not able to undertake some activities given the health measures that are in place.”
She announced what’s called the Tourism and Hospitality Recovery Program, which is aimed at helping hotels, restaurants, travel agencies and tour operators.
Eligible organizations would be required to meet the following two conditions to qualify:
An average monthly revenue reduction of at least 40 percent over the first 13 qualifying periods for the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (12-month revenue decline); and
A current-month revenue loss of at least 40 percent.
The rate will increase according to loss of revenue up to 75 per cent, Freeland said.
Organizations that do not qualify for this program could, instead, be eligible for the Hardest-Hit Business Recovery Program.
It is unclear how all members of the travel trade – independent advisors, for one – will fit into these streams of support, including the Canada Worker Lockdown Benefit.
In a statement to PAX last week, Beyond the Beach’s Brenda Slater, a co-founder of the Association of Canadian Independent Travel Advisors (ACITA), didn’t sound optimistic about independents advisors being able to access the benefits.
“We watched the press conference with a great deal of interest,” Slater told PAX last week. “It is very interesting that they mentioned wage and rent subsidy support is going to be extended for travel agencies, but unfortunately, it doesn’t look as though independent advisors are being considered in the plan at all.”
Despite Canada lifting its non-essential travel advisory for vaccinated travellers, Paradis pointed to the unique situation travel advisors are in as the economy opens up.
“As we continually discuss with MPs and senior government officials, there is a lag in recovery from the time of lifting advisories and restrictions,” Paradis wrote. “Continued support is needed for our members to benefit from Canada’s re-opening.”
ACTA applauded Global Affairs Canada lifting the blanket travel advisory on air travel for fully-vaccinated travellers, calling it a “significant step forward” in travel and tourism recovery.
“However, the advisory against all cruise travel remains, and so does the pre-departure molecular testing requirement,” Paradis said. “These restrictions continue to impact travel and tourism recovery.”
In addition to advocating for independent travel agent eligibility under the Canada Worker Lockdown Benefit, ACTA is also advocating for the inclusion of independent travel agents in the new Tourism and Hospitality Recovery Benefit, Paradis said.
“We have proposed several technical mechanisms to include these travel agents in the new program, and are working with the Prime Minister’s Office, the Minister of Finance, and the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion to ensure the message is clear: independent travel agents need continued support to survive this crisis and benefit from recovery,” Paradis said, noting that ACTA will share details when they're available.
The association will also continue to fight for lifting the cruise advisory for fully-vaccinated travellers, recognizing the efforts cruise lines have taken to follow strict government-mandated health and safety protocols.
It's also calling on Ottawa to scrap testing rules for returning vaccinated travellers.
"This is a significant barrier to travellers, including families and seniors," ACTA said, urging Ottawa to remove the pre-departure molecular test requirement in accordance with the recommendations of the COVID-19 Testing and Screening Expert Advisory Panel.
For a backgrounder on Canada's new supports for tourism and hard-hit businesses, click here.